03 September 2018 Photo Dion Van Niekerk
Drama department gets moving with physical theatre
Elements of physical theatre incorporated in this year’s production of Tok-Tok. Pictures are Charl Henning and Erick Strydom

Dion van Niekerk, a lecturer at the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of the Free State (UFS), had the unique experience of attending a seven-day Physical Theatre summer school at Retzhof Castle in Austria. Also on the course were Charl Henning, a master’s student, and Erick Strydom, a former student, 

“We learned about the physicality of theatre, which means training for nine hours a day,” Van Niekerk said. “We researched the connection between physical action and voice, gesture, movement, dance and word.” 

New approach to teaching aspiring actors

Many theatres are doing away with sets and costumes and focus mainly on the actors’ bodies. You will find it in mime, clowning and dance. It is a way of telling stories by using only body language. “It gave me insight into what is happening in theatres across Europe,” Van Niekerk said. It also provided the opportunity to benchmark against the rest of the world.

Van Niekerk brought back a new approach with which to train students in the department, and a new way of working with actors. “The relevant training is to make theatre accessible to everyone,” he added. Without a word being said on stage, theatre will be able to accommodate hearing-impaired audiences and cut across all languages.

Physical theatre will do away with barriers

“Physical theatre can accommodate everyone. It will cross boundaries as it will become a common entertainment language,” Van Niekerk said. Putting emphasis on physical theatre was also a way to see what the rest of the world was doing in terms of theatre and training.

Van Niekerk and his team incorporated what they had learnt in Austria into a play called  Tok-Tok, which was performed at the Free State Arts Festival earlier this year.  The summer school took place from 29 June 2018 to 5 July 2018.

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